Matera is called in Italian “la Citta dei Sassi”. Meaning “City of Stones.” However that definition is misleading. The historical name “Sassi” means the two districts; the Sasso Barisano, which looks to the north-west on the edge of the cliff; and the Sasso Caveoso, which looks to the south.
The two ”Sassi”, Barisano and Caveoso, offer a unique spectacle. The Sassi are both a visible city and a hidden city. The visible one is built with limestone ashlars, and the invisible one, in the natural caves in the friable rock over which Matera stands. It is made up of caverns, caves, silos, tunnels, burrows hidden in the bowels of the mountain, like the dens of foxes and moles.
Matera is one of the most ancient inhabited cities in the world. The origins of Matera are very remote as testified by the discovery of settlements from the Paleolithic age, or the Old Stone Age, the period of time that extends from the beginning of human existence, approximately 2.5 million years ago, until around 10,000 years ago. Not quite the other day!
Matera stands on “different floors”
Matera is an incredible city. It is a container of three, four or more cities. There is the modern city on a side of the hill; there is the city with the town hall, the church of San Francesco, the piazza dei sedili, the via Lucana and the Ridola museum—that is the main floor!
Than there is the cave city of the Sassi; there is the Matera of the houses and of the rock churches, beyond the walls. Apart from this, it is incredible because with those caves, that ravine, that intense light that reverberates on the white rocks to the east beyond the stream, gives the impression of being in another place and another time.
Does Matera Look Familiar?
Probably! In fact Matera is the city where Pasolini’s “The Gospel according to Matthew” and—more notably—Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ“, were shot. Matera is the city where there is a potter who was able to produce hundreds of clay pots for Gibson’s film using traditional techniques.
Christ Stopped at Eboli (short of Matera)
A book (Christ Stopped at Eboli), by Carlo Levi, focuses on his year in the villages of the Lucania region and the people he encountered there. ‘Christ stopped short of [here],’ which means, that the people of the region feel they have been bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself—that they have somehow been excluded from the full human experience.” And that is the feeling one can still experience while visiting Matera.
Matera City of Culture
A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, and also officially the new European Capital of Culture in 2019.
In fact the Cathedral, in Apulian Romanesque style, was completely restored to its past splendor in occasion of the events of 2019.
The beautiful Cathedral was built in the XIII century on the highest spur of the Civita that divides the two Sassi, on the area of the ancient Benedictine monastery of Sant’Eustachio, one of the two patron saints of the city. Outside, note the beautiful rose window and the 52-meter bell tower; inside, noteworthy is a Byzantine fresco of the Madonna della Bruna, a 16th century crib by the sculptor Altobello Persio and a fresco depicting the Final Judgment.
In Matera there are plenty of B&B—in the most amazing corners—where to stay; and plenty more where to eat, shop for souvenirs, and also to buy the most important item of all; hats for the unforgiving sun!